Monthly Archives: June 2015

Today’s Devotion from 2 Corinthians: Generosity in Affliction

Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-7

There is a typical scene you might see on a playground: a group of boys is playing soccer. They obviously only need one ball for this, but there are a pile of balls on the side, stock-piled. Some girls on the playground want to use a ball for their game, but the boys keep telling them they need all of the balls, “just in case,” and the girls are confused and mad at this ridiculous hoarding.

This is also like the behavior we saw in so many large, rich companies in the recent past that held onto the extra profits they were making after our most recent recession began to turn around. Our government invested our money in many ways in order to stimulate the economy, intending that when the economy improved, such companies could hire more people or buy more raw resources to make more products, not so they could hoard resources for a rainy day, which was not doing anyone any good.

The Bible has a lot to say about how we use our money. Jesus told the parable of the rich man whose land was so abundant he had to build bigger barns, but it was clear that this man was hoarding his grain much like the large companies are hoarding profits, only for themselves. In Genesis, Joseph interprets the Pharaoh’s dreams of an upcoming famine, and urges the Pharaoh to store up the current abundance of crops to prepare for the famine, which is done, not for the Pharaoh’s household alone, but for the whole land. This action saves Egypt and many other lands because it was not done out of selfishness.

Paul holds up the generosity of the Macedonians not because they had an abundance to share, but because they joyfully offered up everything they could in service to God, despite having very little. The Corinthians had everything. Holding onto it just in case they began to experience similar persecution would not grow the church. Holding onto it would only help themselves, and only in the short term.

Holding onto what we have been given instead of offering it back for God’s use elsewhere kills our souls, our faith and our communities. Then there would be nothing worth holding onto. By giving generously there might be other disciples gathered into the body to support each other in hard times.

Too often we think we will not have enough for ourselves in an emergency if we give too much away. And yet, time and again the feeding of the 5,000 becomes a reality. We don’t know how it works, we just know that it does. When we share what we have in the midst of scarcity, everyone has more than enough of what they need. Our God is a God of abundance, not a God of scarcity.

Reflect: Think of a time that you thought there would not be enough to go around, but when everyone shared what they had to offer, there was more than enough for everyone. How might we remind ourselves to keep believing in a God of abundance rather than a God of scarcity?

Devotion from A Heart for Reconciliation by Megan Dosher Hansen and Michael Rinehart

Giving

Sermon by Wasihun Gutema (pastoral intern)

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

June 28, 2015

2 Corinthian 8: 7-15

Introduction: The text for today is connected to the section that preceded and that followed. In all sections, beginning from chapter 8: 1-24 to chapter 9, the main idea focuses on GIVING.

The apostle Paul was the founder of this congregation. He has been with this congregation for a year and a half.  It is very difficult to have a congregation fully grown with in this time span.  Yet the Corinthian church has grown in many ways despite some of the issues it was entangling with.   From sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5: 1-13) to conflict and from being remaining infant at the age to be a teacher (1 Cor. 3: 1-4) to not full filling their promises (2 Cor. 8:10). They failed to keep their promises.

Given their life situation, Paul the apostle could have abandoned them.  But he did not. He continued to be connected to them even after he departed from them. He was joyful that they repented (2 Cor. 7 5-13). He says that his heart was wide open to them which is a sign of welcoming and accepting them.   

Then Paul moved to warn them for being associated with the unbelievers (2 Cor. 6: 14 ff.)  The apostle then started to encourage them. He began his words by saying you excel in everything (v. 7). What does to excel mean? Excel (περισσεύω) means to overflow. The Greek NT word for excel is immense in definition. I will not be detailing the definitions but I am picking the word overflow. You overflew in many things. You excelled/overflew in speech. Your speeches were salty. Your speeches did not hurt people rather may have brought others to Christ. Your speeches taste Christ. Continue reading

Today’s Devotion from 2 Corinthians: Weathering the Storms of Conflict

Read 2 Corinthians 7:2-16

As we have seen, Paul seems extraordinarily concerned about the brokenness in his relationship with the Corinthians, and here we see that he is relieved to have heard from Titus that the rift is being mended. Paul returns to the hurt caused by the individual within the church community at Corinth that caused pain within the community, and also between themselves and Paul because of a previous letter he wrote advising them on what they should do.

We can see how sin does not simply affect those directly involved, but ripples out to cause hurt in a larger group. We have all seen this happen – when someone has caused hurt there are many reactions among the witnesses. Some people will leap to defend the offender, some will rush to condemn, and some will just desire peace, regardless of the offender’s guilt or innocence. Even within these three major groups, there will be splinters – people who believe the person is innocent, no matter the facts; people who believe in the offender’s innocence until facts are laid out; people who believe the offender guilty, but believe another chance should be given; and those people who are defending the accused offender. Sin causes division and mistrust that is difficult to overcome.

Paul thinks he might have overestimated the good faith between himself and the Corinthians in writing a stern letter encouraging them to deal with the offender without leniency. And likely the letter did cause people to get mad at Paul, and some probably even left the community over it. It is rare to see a conflict in the church that gets resolved without someone leaving. Ultimately, it is the faith in Christ, and Paul’s teachings about Jesus and the way Jesus loves that causes the Corinthians to come together again, heal their division, and compel the offending party to repent and reconcile with the community. Paul hears of this from Titus, who he has rushed to meet in Macedonia, hoping for this very news. He is relieved both that the Corinthians were able to see through their anger and division to trust in his tough words to them, and that they were able to initiate healing because of those words. He had been boasting of their faith and generosity on his travels to other churches, and this conflict had distracted them from doing the central work of Christ.

Of course, it is this way with all new groups. In 1965 educational psychologist Bruce Tuckman proposed a 4-stage process that happens with groups gathered around a particular purpose: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. The Corinthians were going to have a storm in the life of their group. The question was whether or not they could weather it. Faith in Jesus Christ, a faith founded on resurrection and forgiveness, is ideal for weathering the storms of life. Paul knew this, and the Corinthians were able to see their faith in action by putting it to the test. When love is strong, we can weather the inevitable storms of conflict.

Reflect: Think about a group conflict in which you have been a part. Was it simply part of the growing pains of a group, or was it destructive? Was the conflict handled well? If it had been understood whether the conflict was constructive or destructive, do you think it would have been handled differently?

Devotion from A Heart for Reconciliation Cy Megan Dosher Hansen and Michael Rinehart

Today’s Devotion from 2 Corinthians: They Shall Be My People

Read  2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

This section of 2 Corinthians, from 6:14-7:1, makes an abrupt change in tone, language and subject-matter from the verses that directly surround it – 6:13 and 7:2 both refer to Paul’s request that the Corinthians open their hearts to him. This is clearly a digression, marked with rhetorical questions. What does God have to do with idols?

Throughout this letter, Paul expresses his love for the Corinthians. He also shares his concern about them possibly following charismatic, but misleading teachers. There seems to be a rift between Paul and the Corinthians because of a a troubling situation and a distressing letter, which we do not have, and that fact that he has not been able to visit in a while. He seems eager to repair this rift and also to encourage the Corinthians to not lose heart in him or his teachings, even though he is not present. He wants to warn them against spending too much time with, or giving too much credence to, teachings that are idolatrous or fanciful versions of Christianity.

Many will recognize the beginning of verse 6:14 – “Do not be mismatched with unbelievers.” Many of us will have heard this quoted, or said it ourselves in reference to marriages between Christians and non-Christians. This interpretation, however, is unlikely, since the text never talk about married persons. In other letters, including 1 Corinthians, Paul does not seem to have a problem with believers being married to unbelievers, in fact encouraging such marriages to remain intact, in the hopes that the unbeliever might eventually be drawn into the Christian community of his or her spouse. Likewise, Paul does not seem to desire Christians to abandon friendships or business partnerships with non-Christians, but rather understands both the necessity of remaining in the world, and in relationship with non-Christians, both for pragmatic reasons as well as the possibilities of drawing them into the Christian community.

So what is Paul talking about? Apparently some Corinthians have failed to grasp the implications of being in Christ. If the Corinthians believe in the hope and grace of God, if they are “temples of the living God” in the world, then they should not be participating in the cultic rites of the pagan temples. The Corinthian Christians were to love all people, but not become involved with the pagan cult.

Paul is not warning us to stay away from people who are not Christians, but rather to stay away from pagan practices and superstitions that lead us away from Christ. It is one thing to love someone who is not Christian. It is entirely another to be drawn into ways of life that involve us in theft, dishonesty, drunkenness, sexual immorality. Perhaps the test is this: Who is having the greatest effect on whom? If developing relationships with those far from Christ brings them in, then all is well. If it draws us more towards an unhealthy lifestyle, then perhaps we are not in a good place to be a witness in that circumstance. Paul offers a wise caution.

Reflect: When did a relationship drag you into a bad place? When have you been able to bring someone else into a better place? How might you tell the difference?

Devotion from A Heart for Reconciliation by Megan Dosher Hansen and Michael Rinehart

Today’s Devotion from 2 Corinthians: An Acceptable Time

Read  2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to be who they are created to be, loving and generous. We can tell that Paul saw these qualities in the Corinthians when he visited them, and also sees these qualities in their actions to forgive and reinstate the member who had so egregiously hurt the community. He does not want them to stop at this action, but keep spreading their love and generosity beyond the body, right there, right then. They did not need to wait for Paul’s next visit or any new sign of the Holy Spirit. The day of salvation was already there, so the acceptable time for action was upon them.

Paul quotes Isaiah because Isaiah was speaking to a people facing an invading army. They didn’t have time to wait for another savior. God had already given them everything they needed to be saved. They just needed to be the faithful people God had called them to be all along:

Thus says the LORD: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages;   —Isaiah 49:8

Like the Judeans, the Corinthians already had everything they needed. They already had kind and generous spirits. They had Christ’s words through Paul. They knew how to forgive well. They had privilege and resources other churches didn’t even have. There was nothing to stop them from living out the life Christ desired for them, and doing it well.

Paul lists his own faithful actions, not as a boast about his faithfulness, but as examples of things the Corinthians were also fully capable of doing as faithful servants of God. It is a concrete list of things they might do or face, beyond forgiveness, faithfulness, becoming humble, and giving generously. Paul shows the wide range of faithful acts one might do in service of Christ: “through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,  beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech…” (2 Corinthians 6:5-7a). Many of these things the Corinthians have witnessed in Paul already, and none of them are beyond the abilities of their community to do as well.   Paul uses the Isaiah quote as encouragement – the Judeans were able to remain safe and hold onto Jerusalem because of their faithful and immediate action.

The day of salvation has not passed, today is an acceptable time. The day of reconciliation has not passed. Don’t wait another minute. Don’t let God’s grace be in vain. Enjoy the benefits of God’s grace now. Act boldly and faithfully to love the world today.

Reflect: Have you felt a call on your heart and mind to do something bold in the name of God? What is stopping you from acting on that call right now?

Devotion from A Heart for Reconciliation by Megan Dosher Hansen and Michael Rinehart

Today’s Devotion from 2 Corinthians: Reconciliation

Read 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:1

Reconciliation is one of the toughest things Jesus asks us to do. It is hard to forget all of the hurt people have caused us, even when we are ready to forgive them, and move forward. Reconciliation requires more work than simply saying the words, “I was wrong and I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” It requires vigilance, and to truly see one another as a new creation, not as the same old people we were before. And it means that we have to keep ourselves from falling into old patterns – of quickly snapping at someone who has hurt us, but who is trying to be different. We have to let people be new.

How many times in an argument with a loved one does all the stuff you both did in the past come up? This is the sort of obstacle we have to avoid when we want to live into new lives. Because if you forgive someone, but then hold onto the old junk that happened, you are the one mired in that old life – you can’t see the other person in a new light, and you are also not living a new life. It’s repeating the past, which is like eating leftover meatloaf from last week – it tastes bad and will probably make you sick.

This is not to say that everything old is bad. Fine wines are often best when aged. But we cannot live on fine wines alone. The Hebrew and Greek scriptures are life-giving, but only when we can understand them in our own words, and apply them in our lives today. Holding onto old hurts and grudges is not life-giving. In fact, holding on to grudges turns you into the person you are condemning, someone who hurts others out of your own pain.

We need to choose new life instead. Like a garden needs to be weeded regularly, our hearts and minds need to be tended, pulling out the weeds of petty arguments and sharp words, so that love, kindness and trust can grow. So if you are living out reconciliation with another person or a group of people, try to see them through the eyes of love first. You will see whether or not they have been transformed through God’s grace and forgiveness. If they continue to behave in the old, hurtful ways, you can still be reconciled to them by keeping your heart kind and peaceful – hoping the best for them, but simply choosing not to engage them anymore. This stuff is not easy. Jesus never said it would be. It is the hardest thing in the world. And it is the most rewarding.

Reflect: Do you tend to hold grudges? Do you forgive easily? What does it, or would it, look like to forgive every person who hurts you, and keep working at it?

Devotion from A Heart for Reconciliation by Megan Dosher Hansen and Michael Rinehart

A Time For Lament

lamentPentecost 4B – A Time for Lament

June 20, 2015

This is a time for lament

if ever there was one.

Tywanza Sanders was a 26 year old barber

who recently graduated from Allen University with a business degree.

Depayne Middletown Doctor was a retired director of the Community Block Grant program

in Charleston County.

Cynthia Hurd,

was the regional library manager

for St. Andrews Regional Library.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

was a mother of 3 and coached the high school girls track team.

Ethel Lance was employed by the church as a sexton

in her retirement.

Rev. Clementa Pinckney was not only the church’s pastor,

but served as a state senator.

Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons was also a pastor at the church

and died at the hospital nearby.

Rev. Myra Thompson was the third pastor of the church

who was killed.

The oldest who died was Susie Jackson,

an 87 year old woman and longtime member of Emanuel AME.

This is a time for lament.

Lament is the language of the psalms…

Continue reading